FEATURE: Meet our Paralympic hopefuls

Penny Macutkiewicz (centre) is pictured with wheelchair basketball player Fiona Tozer and Team ParaGB's Stephen Miller.
Penny Macutkiewicz (centre) is pictured with wheelchair basketball player Fiona Tozer and Team ParaGB's Stephen Miller.
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EXCITEMENT is mounting before the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The opening ceremony is tomorrow, and as Britain’s top athletes limber up a North East physiotherapist is preparing to take up her post as Team ParaGB’s physiotherapist.

Gemma Collis - Durham University student taking part in Paralympics.

Gemma Collis - Durham University student taking part in Paralympics.

Penny Macutkiewicz is based in The Performance Clinic at the University of Sunderland’s pre-Olympic training venue, CitySpace.

She will be Headquarters Physiotherapist at the Paralympics camp and games and is aiming to keep the athletes in tip top condition.

Penny said: “I am part of the headquarters team, which means we will work with all GB paralympic athletes when they need it. Our role is to keep the athletes in their top shape and to manage injuries that occur during the Games.”

The 2012 Paralympic Games is the biggest in their 64-year history, with 288 athletes from Team GB taking part.

Caversham, Great Britain,  Cox, Lily VAN DEN BROECKE.  GB Rowing Training centre. Tuesday  29/05/2012 . Adaptive Press Conference. [Mandatory Credit. Peter Spurrier/Intersport Images]

Caversham, Great Britain, Cox, Lily VAN DEN BROECKE. GB Rowing Training centre. Tuesday 29/05/2012 . Adaptive Press Conference. [Mandatory Credit. Peter Spurrier/Intersport Images]

Excitement is reaching fever pitch following the unprecedented popularity of the London 2012 Games, with tickets for the Paralympic Games selling out for the first time in their history, and Team ParaGB predicted to finish high on the medal table.

Penny said: “The preparations leading towards the Paralympics have been very thorough, and have been based around team unity and being ‘best prepared’. This does not just refer to the athletes but also to the support team, to ensure we are best prepared to keep the athletes focused and calm.

“Team ParaGB is definitely our greatest team. It is best prepared, and expecting to come second in the medal team, winning more medals than in Beijing.”

Some of the top North East athletes Penny works with include Sunderland’s Hazel Robson and Cramlington’s Stephen Miller, who both compete in the athletics.

John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas, Sonar.??The Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta, 6th to 11th of June 2011.??Skandia Team GBR image.??For further information please contact team.media@rya.org.uk. ??� Copyright Skandia Team GBR. Image copyright free for editorial use. This image may not be used for any other purpose without the express prior written permission of the RYA. For full copyright and contact information please see http://media.skandiateamgbr.com/fotoweb/conditions.fwx?

John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas, Sonar.??The Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta, 6th to 11th of June 2011.??Skandia Team GBR image.??For further information please contact team.media@rya.org.uk. ??� Copyright Skandia Team GBR. Image copyright free for editorial use. This image may not be used for any other purpose without the express prior written permission of the RYA. For full copyright and contact information please see http://media.skandiateamgbr.com/fotoweb/conditions.fwx?

On Friday, Team GB event rider Claire Lomas lit the Paraylmpic cauldron in Trafalgar Square for the London 2012 games, which are set to be a 2.5million ticket sell-out.

Games chairman Lord Coe predicted that many people watching the events for the first-time will be “blown away”.

He said: “I think we can genuinely say we can raise the bar over the next few weeks.”

The London 2012 Paralympics look set to capture the imagination not just of young people but people of all ages, he predicted, adding: “Without being too jingoistic or nationalistic about it, I think we can really say that the Paralympic Games are coming home.”

20110808  Copyright onEdition 2011�'Free for editorial use image, please credit: onEdition''With just over a year to go to the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games, the British Paralympic Association (BPA) today announced the selection of the first athletes who will compete for Great Britain at London 2012.''The athletes are the first named members of the British team to achieve selection and are the first athletes to be officially selected for either ParalympicsGB or Team GB. ''The three of the five athletes who will compete in the British team in sailing are:''Hannah Stodel, Stephen Thomas and John Robertson,  - Sonar (three-person keelboat event''For more information please contact Tash Carpenter, BPA Press Officer'E: tash.carpenter@paralympics.org.uk'M: 07766  991 152'or'Lindsey Bell, RYA Sailing Press Officer'E: Lindsey.bell@rya.org.uk'M: 07900 57 05 30''If you require a higher resolution image or you have any other onEdition photographic enquiries, please contact onEdition on 0845 900 2 900 or email

20110808 Copyright onEdition 2011�'Free for editorial use image, please credit: onEdition''With just over a year to go to the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games, the British Paralympic Association (BPA) today announced the selection of the first athletes who will compete for Great Britain at London 2012.''The athletes are the first named members of the British team to achieve selection and are the first athletes to be officially selected for either ParalympicsGB or Team GB. ''The three of the five athletes who will compete in the British team in sailing are:''Hannah Stodel, Stephen Thomas and John Robertson, - Sonar (three-person keelboat event''For more information please contact Tash Carpenter, BPA Press Officer'E: tash.carpenter@paralympics.org.uk'M: 07766 991 152'or'Lindsey Bell, RYA Sailing Press Officer'E: Lindsey.bell@rya.org.uk'M: 07900 57 05 30''If you require a higher resolution image or you have any other onEdition photographic enquiries, please contact onEdition on 0845 900 2 900 or email

There will be 4,280 athletes taking part.

Countries making debut appearances include Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, the United States Virgin Islands and San Marino.

Up to 166 National Paralympic Committees – the largest number ever to attend a Paralympic Games – and around 70 per cent of London 2012’s Games Maker volunteers will be new workers who were not involved in the Olympics.

There will be a central team which stays in place to carry lessons across from the Olympic Games.

There will be 20 sports covering 21 disciplines across the 11 days of competition at the Paralympics. Athletes will compete at 19 venues in 503 events which will be broken down into 284 sessions.

A “sizeable chunk” of forces members who were working during the Olympics have now been stood down, said games chief executive Paul Deighton.

Handout photo issued by LOCOG. Claire Lomas lights the Paraylmpic cauldron in Trafalgar Square as part of the Paralympic Flame visit to London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday August 24, 2012. See PA story PARALYMPICS Torch. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/LOCOG/PA Wire

Handout photo issued by LOCOG. Claire Lomas lights the Paraylmpic cauldron in Trafalgar Square as part of the Paralympic Flame visit to London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday August 24, 2012. See PA story PARALYMPICS Torch. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/LOCOG/PA Wire

There will be a military force of about 3,500 with 1,000 in reserve and a private security force of between 4,000 and 5,000.

Mr Deighton added: “We have essentially shifted from an Olympic Games situation, where there was a slight majority of military, to a Paralympic Games of security guards.”

Will our Hazel add to her medals?

TAKING part in the Paralympics is nothing new for Sunderland’s Hazel Robson who will be competing in her fourth Games.

The 33-year-old is hoping to add to her impressive array of medals, which includes a gold for the 100m in Sydney 2000, two silvers for 100m and 200m in Athens 2004 and two bronzes in Beijing 2008.

Hazel, who lives in New Herrington, said winning a medal on home soil would be like a “fairy tale”.

The former Barbara Priestman pupil, who has cerebral palsy, will again be competing in the 100m and 200m. She said: “It’s really exciting. I need to get under 15 seconds in the 100m and under 32 seconds in the 200m. My main rivals are the Russians.

“It’s an incredible honour to represent my country on home soil, but I am a little nervous about the up coming events. I will try my very best for myself and everyone in the UK.”

Hazel’s proud mum and dad, Liz and Phil Robson, will definitely be in London supporting their daughter for the event. Liz, 56, who works in an estate agent shop, said: “She would love to get medals again this time. I think she would like another gold so she has two of each.”

She said Hazel is totally dedicated to her sport and trains four nights a week, and exercises other days.

Liz said: “The only day she takes off is Sunday and you have to even pin her down then so stop her training.”

Team is setting sail for victory

SUNDERLAND sailor John Robertson insists Paralympic glory is well and truly in his sights.

The 40-year-old is part of the Sonar sailing team, alongside Steve Thomas and Hannah Stodel, and is hoping it will be third time lucky for him.

John, who has been disabled since a motorbike accident in 1994, took sixth place in both the Beijing and Athens Olympics, but thinks they could be the team to beat for London 2012.

He said: “I think everyone is going to be trying really hard to beat us so we have just got to keep on the game really and just keep pushing hard.

“The whole squad has moved on quite a lot since Beijing and hopefully when it comes to September we will do the job for Queen and country.

“It would mean so much to all of us to win a medal at a home Games and I know I will be doing all I can to make that happen, as will the other guys in the team.”

Durham girls’ Olympic joy

DURHAM University students Gemma Collis and Lily van den Broecke are proving you can have brains as well as brawn as they gear up for the London 2012 Paralmpics.

Gemma will be representing her country as part of the GB wheelchair fencing team and Lily has been selected as a rowing cox.

Gemma, 19, who also plays wheelchair basketball, only took up fencing when she joined Durham University last year.

Growing up, the law student, who hails from Buckinghamshire, competed at a high level in a number of sports, but in 2008 developed a condition called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, which is a progressive nervous system disease, and she has been on crutches or used a wheelchair since then. She said: “I feel incredibly proud to have been selected to represent Great Britain at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

“Competing in the Paralympics is a dream in itself, but getting the opportunity to do so in front of a home crowd should make it all the more special.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I just can’t wait. It’s pretty surreal really. When I started fencing six months ago, I never would’ve thought I’d be in this position now. I can’t stop smiling.”

Originally from Oxford, Lily is another Durham University student who can’t wait to take part in the Paralympics.

Lily, 20, who is studying philosophy, politics and economics, started rowing at secondary school and after four years tried out as a cox and loved it.

She said: “I’m beyond excited to be part of the Paralympic Games. Not only is it an honour to be coxing some top athletes but the experience will be made even more special when shared with our home nation.”

Although she is able-bodied, Lily is a cox for the Legs, Trunk and Arms mixed coxed four. The rules do not preclude able-bodied athletes to compete as rowing coxes in the Paralympics.

She said: “I feel that as an able-bodied cox, working with the Paralympic Rowing Squad is one of the most humbling and incredible experiences that anyone without a disability could have and we would, of course, love to win a medal at the games.”